Tag Archives: media

A dream deferred: Pence doesn’t make it into the ASG

Alas, the young protagonist wiled away the biggest day of his baseball career riding the pine.

Richard Justice sums it up nicely in a column on the subject.

Pence said he definitely felt like part of the National League team, that he enjoyed meeting Trevor Hoffman and others.

About all he didn’t do was play. NL manager Charlie Manuel, that sly fox, apparently was saving Pence for extra innings.

Pence’s journey is just beginning. He’s 26 years old and in his second full major league season. He’s smart and enormously talented and almost surely will be here again.

“It definitely was a great experience,” Pence said. “I wouldn’t say it was everything I hoped it was going to be, because I want to play, and I want to win.

“It’s disappointing, but it gives me a reason to fight even harder and come back next year and have a chance to play. It was nice being part of the best in baseball, even though I didn’t get to play. I felt like I was part of the game.”

Just to see his face on the TV screen with the big mashers and the basepath thrillers was something else, from my fan’s point of view. Tejada, for his part, laced a nice single up the middle.

On another note, McCarver and Buck have gone beyond annoying. They are limp and drowsy in the booth these days. When Carl Crawford made a fantastic catch against the left field wall, Buck’s tone didn’t waver in the slightest. “And he makes the catch.” McCarver immediately added, “I don’t think that would’ve been a home run. It probably would not have…. Oh, yeah, that would have been a home run.” I mean, good grief, can we not get someone in there who can at least pretend to enjoy themselves during the season’s most a) lighthearted and/or b) important moments? It’s getting to the point where they detract from the experience, rather than just not adding to it. Before it was all the schmaltz. Now even the schmaltz, the Yankees and Red Sox-loving, is exhausted, limping along like a great-grandmother to the market each day, like always.

And this at a time in baseball when the sport is trying to attract young urban audiences. Aside from Buck’s association with football, this pair is about the least appealing one I could imagine to do that, to excite non-fans enough to draw them in. There are the players in place to do so–the Ryans Howard and Braun, Crawford himself, Sizemore, Ichiro (an older player who is still as thrilling as he was on his first day), &tc. Now MLB and Fox need to catch up with their media representatives, on the game’s most prominent promontories.

Spaceman Bill Lee considers McCarver the smartest player he played with. Thats all well and good, but dont use that power, sir, to overanalyze everything.

Spaceman Bill Lee considers McCarver the smartest player he played with. That's all well and good, but don't use that power, sir, to overanalyze everything.

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The bluntness barrier: watching language in the news

Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez

I was reading an average baseball article from the Miami Herald today–about how Hanley Ramirez thinks his pitcher should’ve plunked the other guy after he got plunked himself–when the article took a little turn to the left, a small unexpected dog leg through the brambles. I’ll quote part of it below. Keep in mind that I’m focusing not on the content of the debate, but on the writerly discourse going on (the italics are mine):

”Everybody knows it,” Ramirez said in a calm voice while dressing in front of his locker after the game. “I think Fredi knows it. J.J. knows it. He was throwing strikes.”

Ramirez, speaking in Spanish, was more blunt with a South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter, saying the Marlins had an ”obligation” to retaliate.

”You know, incredible,” the newspaper quoted Ramirez as saying. “There’s going to come a point where I’m not going to feel protected. I’m going to be scared to hit a home run because I know I’m going to get hit.”

Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald does the right thing, acknowledges his lack of Spanish

Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald does the right thing, acknowledges his lack of Spanish

There’s a lot of layers to this little happening. First we have a player talking to a reporter in English, providing a pretty basic run-down of a pretty emotionally charged event. I don’t know what Hanley’s language proficiency is, nor do I particularly care. In fact, I didn’t think twice about the nature of the conversation, as a newspaper account can strip any conversation clean of character and style. So it’s hard to say what the nature of the discourse is, but point is it was pretty low key.

We start to see a little frustration from the reporter–Clark Spencer–who makes a bold decision: he lifts the journalistic curtain and reveals what must be a common problem/circumstance in today’s pro baseball media. Spencer turns the attention away from the content of the story towards the nature in which the content was delivered to representatives of the media. Ramirez, speaking in Spanish, was more blunt with a South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter. That’s got to sting a little, to not only know but to report that there’s a guy standing right next to you getting the really good quotations because he speaks Spanish. But rather than treat Hanley’s words as those he gathered himself–he was probably standing right there after all–Spencer does the admirable thing, indirectly admitting that he doesn’t know Spanish, and giving the nod to the publication that does by citing their particular quotation.

Not only is there the language barrier, then. There’s the emotion barrier, and Spencer admits this too, acknowledging that Hanley was “more blunt” when conversing in Spanish. This is probably not the most acute choice of words on Spencer’s part, as Hanley is probably better able to express complex thoughts in Spanish if that’s his native tongue, rather than being more or less blunt in one language over another. But for Spencer to cite that increased intimacy between Hanley and the Spanish-speaking reporter struck me as a tender moment–a peaceful eddy of humanity in the raging rivers of up-to-the-minute sporting news.

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A tale of two craftsmen and the media events that showed us more: Christian Bale and Alex Rodriguez

Two semi-recent media events continue to hound me, if only for their polarity: Christian Bale’s on-set rant, and Alex Rodriguez’s steroid “confession” and ensuing press conference.

  • Bale’s rant: A spontaneous, slightly scary outburst from an actor at the top of the film industry; a private psychological event, not intended for public consumption.
  • A-Rod’s whatever-it-was/is: A stagy, cagey, reactionary PR torture session, from a ballplayer still at the top of his industry; a public event, intended solely to make excuses for private psychological events.
Were all wearing some kind of mask, am I right?

We're all wearing some kind of mask, am I right?

Each media event involves a craftsman in a given field, and each media event reveals something about the respective craftsman’s relationship to his craft.

Bale’s rant is a glimpse into the artist’s mind, hovering ever on the border between control and chaos. In the arts, beauty and truth often emerge from the scorched earth struggle between sanity and insanity, life and death, the conscious and the unconscious, control and chaos. Continue reading

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The Purpose of the Game: MLB, the WBC, and the psychological role of baseball

A game and The Game

A part of the game, not The Game

A part of the game, not The Game

For the purposes of the forthcoming discussion, I am outlining a distinction between Major League Baseball (MLB) and the game of baseball (the Game). MLB is a business-type operation, the premier baseball league in the world, and the focal point of American baseball culture. The Game, on the other hand, is the width and breadth of baseball, with all its historic and present-day implications; The Game includes the minor leagues, college baseball, Little League,  coaches, the best players and the worst at every level, tee ball or over 40 leagues; The Game includes fans, writers, historians, bloggers, fantasy players, statisticians. The Game includes even, yes, Major League Baseball.

A shock, I know, but it bears reminding that MLB is a subsection of the greater universal Game. To push even further: MLB serves the Game. Without the latter, there is no former. And the psychologically healthly standing of the Game only improves that of MLB. There are those who would consider themselves keepers of the Game, I imagine, but  few can truly claim ownership of such an unquantifiable solar system. An old sportswriter protecting the sanctity of the Hall of Fame has as much jurisdiction over the the Game as a City Councilman does over the Milky Way.

In our time, there is a mega-focus on the MLB. It is an understandable obsession, and one that I take part in myself. But right now our viewfinder is trained close enough on MLB to render other robust baseball culture centers across the country and world into an extended MLB scouting network. We talk about Japanese players jumping to MLB and we say that the Japanese leagues are somewhere near the equivalent of Triple-A; MLB academies (recent closings aside) pepper the Dominican and Venezuela; a couple of Indian guys who’ve thrown only javelins sign with the Pirates.  My quick overview and gross generalization captures the essence I think of the general attitude in American baseball culture, by which I mean the treatment of baseball cultures outside of the MLB as servants of the MLB. Again, it is understandable that the world’s most competitive league would garner the most attention.

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Reading into the micro-narrative: The hot stove league then and trade rumors now

ru-mor

-noun
1. a story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts.
2. gossip; hearsay.
3. Archaic. a continuous, confused noise; clamor; din.
-verb
4. to circulate, report, or assert by a rumor.

Lee Allen, HOF historian

Lee Allen, HOF historian

According to baseball historian Lee Allen in The Hot Stove League, “No one knows when baseball followers first began to gather in winter around the hot stove of a barber shop or country store.” Also, “the phrase, ‘hot stove league,’ is of uncertain origin.” The 1955 doesn’t linger long on the etymological details. Instead he revels in the odd stories of baseball, and wacky player names of which my favorite is Wedo Southern Martini. Allen, however, does spend a few sentences to describe the nature of the hot stove leagues around mid-century: “If winter, for the baseball fan, is a time to look ahead and visualize successes for his favorite team, it is also a time to look back at the bittersweet patch, to review the triumphs and the heartbreak of the past,” what he calls “a lull in the action that permits the fan to take pause and consider what he has seen and read about.” The writer sounds like a peaceful guy who likes a nice quiet time pondering people like Wedo Martini, and as a historian for the Hall of Fame he found the right occupation.

Vinegar Bend Mizell

Vinegar Bend Mizell

In reading one account of the hot stove league from another era, I think it bears considering what today’s winter reverie is like. Allen’s view of what is currently this time of year is a pensive one, full of not just future-hopin’, but past ponderin’ too. It is a literary time when fans would not only argue vigorously over the politico-strategic details of next year’s team, but also share the calm moments talking about old times, conjure their best yarn. The hot stove as the gathering place could not be a more bucolic, romantic symbol. It is warming, soothing. Outside it’s cold as nuts, but around the piping stove it’s possible to imagine that summer ever existed and will exist again. Shivering at a train stop, for example, doesn’t spur the desire to ramble on about HOF second basemen William Jennings Bryan Herman or Vinegar Bend Mizell.

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Knowledge-able in an infinite world: the navigation of the decentralization of baseball stats

//tinyurl.com/7ngt7u

The Baseball Encyclopedia, 1969. fr http://tinyurl.com/7ngt7u

The Baseball Encyclopedia, published first in 1969, blew peoples’ minds. The baseball public had never before seen every baseball stat gathered in one place with such authority and finality. Players from the old days that had been entirely forgotten were suddenly right there, on paper, in this impressive fat book that staked an unprecedented claim to truth and accuracy. Statistical books around for a while by that point, but they were limited to recent seasons and oriented around trivia and barroom argument-settling. Scraping up the name, age and number of every Johnny to put on a uniform seemed as reasonable as counting blades of grass on the lawn.

Fortunately a group of lunatics with a publisher ventured to solve this information problem. Instead of using the highly limited old books of statistics, a guy named David Neft hired a team of college interns to scour old box scores and newspaper accounts across the country and record their findings. Using computers for the first significant time to gather data in a baseball manner, Neft and his crew–the team of college kids always makes me think about it of the hapless interns from the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou–reenacted the whole history of major league baseball. At bat to at bat, they tabulated and cross-referenced each tiny step towards the complete numerical narrative of the game. They depended on the original unsung heroes of baseball statistical analysis who had kept box scores and newspaper clippings and hand-assembled statistics long before anyone cared to see them (baseball’s early stat history consists entirely of these uheralded, isolated mavericks and mad men, as chronicled in the fantastic book The Numbers Game by Alan Schwartz). Continue reading

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Can baseball get a witness?: Umpires, computers, and the space between

“this is why ive been saying for years.. let k zone and all the computer things we see on espn and fox etc. call balls and strikes… this way it would always be acurate”  – comment from a forum user on OperationSports.com

“It ain’t anything ’til I call it.”  – Hall of Fame upmire Bill Klem

Rule 2.00

The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a  horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniformpants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall  be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

The Umpire

The Umpire

There are two competing truths in any baseball game: the facts and the reality. The facts are what actually happen, while the reality is that mediated version of the game as delivered by the umpire. For example, the fact is that the runner’s foot contacted the base before the fielder tagged him with the ball-in-glove. The reality might be that the umpire couldn’t discern the fact, and so called the runner out. Like a couple of seagulls fighting over a piece of bread, the facts and the reality weave between and around each other constantly. Neither ever gains the ultimate advantage. An umpire is like a Jedi Master, bending the facts with a punched fist or two arms held out parallel to the ground.

For a lengthy discussion of umpires and the calls that they “make,” I suggest “Taking Umpiring Seriously: How Philosophy Can Help Umpires Make the Right Calls” by J.S. Russell (from the book Baseball and Philosophy). Russell discusses the “performative utterance,” a term coined by J.L. Austin, in which simply saying something creates an incident, or some kind of real thing (his example cites for one the “I do” statement of the wedding ceremony, in which saying it makes the marriage a real thing). The paradox of course is that an umpire’s judgement doesn’t actually change the facts of the play. What he says certainly goes, but the seagulls fighting it out still don’t get the bread, but continue their endless bobbing and weaving. If an umpire’s call is Truth, “it means that they can never make bad calls.” You can’t argue with the Truth, but managers and players argue umpire’s calls a whole lot. Continue reading

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